Andrew Lloyd Webber still winces at one review that labelled his beloved Phantom of the Opera “masked balls”. To add insult to injury, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Cats is a load of fur balls.
Cats, Playhouse, Greenside Place,
* * *
Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, it’s a musical round-up of the 30s nonsense poems written for Eliot’s God Children set to an 80s soundtrack and coated liberally in spandex and sparkles.
The vague storyline follows a tribe of cats, the Jellicle Cats, and the mischief they get up to at night as they decide who shall ascend to the Heaviside Layer and refresh one of their nine lives.
Stage make-up and costume design has come a long way since the show’s 1981 opening which helps the audience suspend disbelief no end and enhances the experience. The cats have a “designed” look which is now less Pineapple aerobics class and more Thundercats .
Essentially, Cats is like spending the night with a group of stray Thunderan drama students. Rather than having the mighty sword of Omens to protect himself, Liono is equipped with legwarmers and sidekicks who can out Fouetté en tournant their foes. Take that Mumm-Ra.
One of the longest running musicals of all time, the show has no shortage of adoring fans who were out in force at the Playhouse last night.
One of the greatest strengths of the production is that it doesn’t feature a central romantic pairing, it’s more of a vaudeville review than a standard musical, so children and families are able to invest more in the events taking place on stage. The strong focus on dance and upbeat, nonsensical songs will also appeal to the very young.
Launching the national tour from Edinburgh this week, the ensemble is still getting to grips with the energy of the production and the tech crew are still trying to find the right sound balance for individual singers which detracts greatly from the overall experience.
There urgently needs to be hefty injection of passion, confidence and zing to even begin to nudge the original.
For die hard fans, however, there’s still plenty to enjoy at the Playhouse.